European Security Officials Critical of U.S.

Many European security officials were highly critical of the U.S. for not sharing evidence they say is crucial for investigations and trials. Spain and Italy also rejected the U.S. military response to terrorism and insisted the best methods come from the criminal justice system.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

American and European security officials have just wrapped up a conference on counterterrorism. It was the fourth year in a row they've met in Florence, Italy, to discuss ways to combat Islamist extremism. Although last weekend's meeting was described as cordial, many of the officials from Europe were highly critical of U.S. policies and methods.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: During the three-day conference, European officials firmly rejected what's known as the U.S. war paradigm in combating terrorism. They insisted that law enforcement and the criminal justice system are the only effective tools to counter extremist violence.

Armando Spataro is Italy's best-known anti-terrorism investigating magistrate. He has indicted 26 Americans charged with an alleged CIA kidnapping of a Muslim cleric in Milan. He said all extra-judicial methods used by American officials such as extraordinary renditions and ghost prisons are unacceptable.

Mr. ARMANDO SPATARO (Deputy Chief Prosecutor, Milan, Italy): (Through translator) They are the result of an inability to understand the terrorist phenomenon. They are useless methods. They are a dangerous boomerang.

POGGIOLI: Spain's leading anti-terrorism prosecutor, Baltazar Garzon, agreed with Spataro's view that U.S. methods foment rather than prevent Islamic radicalization. And he was scathing about the Bush administration's offshore extra-judicial detention center.

Mr. BALTAZAR GARZON (Anti-terrorism Prosecutor, Spain): (Through translator) I think Guantanamo is a black hole; it's a dark well of illegality which could only delegitimize the struggle against terrorism.

POGGIOLI: Spataro and Garzon also cited several cases where the U.S. failed to share or delayed supplying information, obstructing the legal process. The two magistrates claimed U.S. anti-terrorism methods are alienating the large and growing Muslim communities in Europe. They insisted on absolute observance of the rule of law as the way to gain the trust of their Muslim minorities and prevent radicalization of their young.

And they warned of new terrorist threats. Garzon said intelligence has shown the emergence of a new alliance in North Africa between al-Qaida and the Algerian-based Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat.

Mr. GARZON: (Through translator) Al-Qaida's presence in Maghreb, it's a reality and it's an ideal base from which to engage in actions against Europe. Moving to the action phase in Europe, I think, is just a matter of time.

POGGIOLI: And al-Qaida already has parts of Europe firmly in its sights.

Mr. PETER CLARK (Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Metropolitan Police Service, London): The United Kingdom has, without doubt, become a focus for al-Qaida and its associated groups.

POGGIOLI: Peter Clark is the head of Britain's anti-terrorism branch. He told the conference that until recently, the U.K. was a net exporter of terrorism. Now, he said, the threat of homegrown terrorists has become the overriding concern. However, Clark lamented a widening disconnect between public opinion and law enforcement.

Mr. CLARK: The police service have been accused of exaggerating the threat posed by terrorists in order, it was alleged, to help the government justify its foreign policy.

POGGIOLI: The Blair government's involvement in the war in Iraq has not enjoyed public support, and Clark said skepticism has led to an increasingly wide political divide in the U.K. Moreover, no intelligence is coming from Muslim communities, whose members, he said, don't believe the police and government are acting unequivocally for their benefit.

Mr. CLARK: I think it's no exaggeration to say that the lack of public trust and intelligence is in danger of infecting the relationship between the police and the communities we serve.

POGGIOLI: The conference was organized by the NYU Law School Center for Law and Security and sessions were off the record, with most U.S. officials declining to be interviewed.

Karen Greenberg, executive director of the center, said that for the first time in the four years she has organized the Florence conference there was a notable lack of American triumphalism.

Ms. Karen Greenberg (Executive Director, New York University Center on Law and Security): No one this year defended the Iraq war as a success. No one said we're not in trouble. There was a consensus that we made some mistakes, that we've done some things wrong as a country and that we need to find our way back, forward, however you want to describe it.

POGGIOLI: Roger Cressey, a former White House counter-terrorism official in both the Clinton and Bush administrations, agreed there's been an important shift of attitude.

Mr. ROGER CRESSEY (Former White House Counter-Terrorism Adviser): Up to this point, decisions were made in Washington without any regard for how they would be felt here in Europe. And so now we're starting to have that dialogue, which is critical to reestablishing trust and also maintaining close cooperation down the road.

POGGIOLI: Cressy said, whoever wins the presidential election, one of the next administration's top priorities will be damage control, restoring U.S. credibility with European allies as well as with the Muslim world.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News.

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